November 26, 1996
Charles Krause reports on the visit of a Cuban theater company to Washington. Is the play the thing, or does it mean matters are warming up between Havana and Washington?
CHARLES KRAUSE: The play, called Strawberry and Chocolate, opens at legendary ice cream parlor in Havana called Copalia.
DIEGO: (speaking through interpreter) [scene from play] Excuse me, please. Excusez-moi, may I sit down?
DAVID: (speaking through interpreter) [scene from play] Oh boy, I'm not a pansy. Why did he pick my table? There are empty seats all over the place.
CHARLES KRAUSE: The title of the play and of the short story and the movie that preceded it ostensibly refers to the flavors of the ice cream. But in revolutionary Cuba, strawberry and chocolate also refer to the tastes and sexual preferences of those who order them. David is a young university student who comes to Copalia for the chocolate ice cream. He's not gay. But Diego, the openly homosexual, older man, who prefers strawberry, tries to seduce him anyway.
DIEGO: (speaking through interpreter) [scene from play] Oh, God, did I burn you?
DAVID: (speaking through interpreter) [scene from play] It's worse than that. Look at the stains on my shirt.
DIEGO: (speaking through interpreter) [scene from play] I'm mortified--the things that happen to me. Shall I rub it with a wet rag?
CHARLES KRAUSE: Strawberry and Chocolate is the bittersweet story of their deepening friendship, a relationship that ultimately teaches David and the audience a great deal about political repression and intolerance in Communist Cuba. In the play, shortly after the younger man, David, meets Diego, he tells his buddy, Miguel, about the homosexual who tried to seduce him. The two young men then decide that after David gathers more evidence, they'll turn the older men in to Cuba's secret police.
MIGUEL: (speaking through interpreter) [scene from play] Listen to what I found out: If we do a good job and put together a good dossier on him, the fag could potentially get as much as 10 years in jail.
DAVID: (speaking through interpreter) [scene from play} Ten years? Are you crazy?
MIGUEL: (speaking through interpreter) [scene from play] What's with you? We'll accuse him of hoarding foreign propaganda and disparaging the revolution and drinking whiskey.
DAVID: (speaking through interpreter) [scene from play] I wasn't planning to invite him to my lair. That's what I call my place.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Castro's government has never been tolerant of homosexuality. In the play, Diego makes bitter reference to the special work camps where gays were sent during the early years of the revolution and to the discrimination they have continued to face. On the afternoon we filmed the play at the Gala Theater, a Cuban Interest Section sent a senior official to watch us work and to speak with us afterwards. We asked him whether the kind of persecution Strawberry and Chocolate depicts still exists in Cuba today.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Does it reflect the reality?
OSCAR DE LOS REYES, Cuban Interest Section: Not today. The story on which this play is based was written some years ago. It is--if I'm not very much mistaken--the time setting is mid 70's, late 70's. The situation is altogether different today.
CHARLES KRAUSE: But a number of Cuban-Americans we spoke to disagreed. Augustine Blasquez is an artist and documentary film maker who was forced to leave Cuba 30 years ago.
AUGUSTINE BLASQUEZ, Cuban Exile: What I have known through friends and people who have defected recently is that the situation hasn't changed. The homosexual in Cuba continues being prosecuted and oppressed, and life for a homosexual in Cuba is horrible.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Perhaps the most dramatic moment comes when Diego unleashes the bitterness of a man who feels, like so many others in Cuba, that the Cuban revolution, which promised freedom and equality, betrayed them.
DIEGO: (speaking through interpreter) [scene from play] Whether you like it or not, I am part of this country. It's as much mine as it is yours, and I have the same right to do things for this country, to do exhibits, or whatever else I damn well please.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Diego's love for his country makes no difference. He's forced to leave Cuba, because David's friend, Miguel, has turned the older man in to the secret police. What we asked Vladimir Cruz and Jorge Felix Ali, the two Cuban actors who played Diego and David in the Washington production, how closely the play reflects current reality in Cuba.
CHARLES KRAUSE: I'm sure you must know in Cuba some homosexual people who are critical of the government, people who are religious. What would happen to them today?
JORGE FELIX ALI, Cuban Actor: (speaking through interpreter) The situation has changed. The people do not have this exact problem anymore. They can go to the university, and, in fact, they go to church. The church is filled The religious problem, as I said, in the past was a tolerated problem. As it says in a part of the play, the homosexual, unfortunately, as a human being isn't wanted, is a loser. At times, it is more tolerated to be an assassin than to be a homosexual.
VLADIMIR CRUZ, Cuban Actor: (speaking through interpreter) This feeling of rejection can exist in people's idiosyncrasies and morality. It's part of the history of Cuba. It's machismo, like many Latin American countries, but I don't believe it exists, at least the strong persecution. There are homosexuals working in state institutions, including some famous intellectuals, known homosexuals.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Both Cruz and Ali insisted that they came to Washington to further their acting careers. But just the fact that they were issued exit visas by the Cuban government and entry visas by the United States angered many Cuban-Americans like Raul Sanchez, who owns two popular Tex-Mex restaurants in Washington. He quit the Hispanic Theater Board, because he felt that by allowing the actors and the play to leave Cuba, the Castro regime was attempting to manipulate public opinion in the United States.
RAUL SANCHEZ, Former Member, Gala Theater Board: I think Cuba wants to send a message with this play and also with the movie that there is a freedom of expression in Cuba. And that's not true. They are given a permit to live knowingly that they will come to Washington and be critical of the revolution, and they will knowingly, they will be allowed to go back to Cuba with the blessing of the government, with the blessing and the help of the Cuban Interest Section. So this is unheard of. This doesn't happen. So if it is, it is because there is something behind that. They want to project the image that they are tolerant. They want to project the image that they have freedom of expression.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Hugo Madrano, the founder and principal director of Washington's Gala Hispanic Theater, says politics played no part in his decision to bring “Strawberry and Chocolate” to Washington.
HUGO MADRANO, Director, Gala Theater: This is an artistic project, completely artistic project. I loved the play from the very beginning. I liked to do it in the way that I saw it in the movie, and when I read the original script, I liked to do it here in Gala. That's it. I'm not involving politics, absolutely, and I--and that's something that I explained to Raul. I said, with your attitude, by resigning the board, you're making it political.
CHARLES KRAUSE: But Peter Hakim, the executive director of the Inter-American Dialogue, and also a member of the Gala Theater Board, says the presence of Cuban actors in Washington could, indeed, signal a desire by Cuba and the Clinton administration to reduce tensions.
PETER HAKIM, Executive Director, Inter-American Dialogue: This is the kind of ping-pong diplomacy we once had with China. I mean, it doesn't, in itself, doesn't mean very much, but, you know, you allow one play to be performed, then maybe there's another play, and a dance troupe and a jazz group, and suddenly you have a real exchange, and then maybe you move from the arts and into exchange of scientists and then maybe social scientists, and you begin to develop closer communications. It's easier. People know more about it, and maybe some of the hostility dies away. This play, obviously a very small part, but, you know what Eleanor Roosevelt said, "Light a single candle."
CHARLES KRAUSE: But for most Cuban-Americans and for the U.S. Government, Fidel Castro would still have a long way to go before this kind of cultural diplomacy could result in normal relations between the two countries.